"This inert political atmosphere fits James’s outlook on life. In his letters, he often complained about politics. He resented the way in which election seasons tend to monopolize attention. Otherwise witty, entertaining conversation turns into tense, sometimes bitter political disagreements. During one of the crises that punctuated late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century English political life, James wrote to a friend in despair of the power of political partisanship to eclipse all else: “Literature, art, conversation, society—everything lies dead under its black shadow.” He was not someone who liked talking politics, which is no doubt why the long passages in the novel in which various characters declaim their political convictions are so empty of warmth and interest.
It was that black shadow to which James wished to give fictional form in The Bostonians. His story draws attention to the universalizing, abstracting, and depersonalizing political imagination of New England progressivism, a sensibility that he feared (rightly) would come to dominate the modern era. But James wants to do more than observe and depict. He also wants to resist—resist the imperial ambitions of political ideology. The Bostonians provides a powerful and poignant literary defense of love’s privacy against the progressive’s demand that every sphere of life be subdued by justice’s demands. It is as if James anticipated the feminist battle cry—“the personal is the political”—and wrote a novel to forestall its triumph."
[image: Dora Maar - 'Double Portrait' - 1930]
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor